CAIRO: At least four medical centers in Egypt promote stem cell therapy despite Minister of Health Adel Adawy’s ban on the approach because it is under research and study.
The approach is not approved as an official cure in Egypt, but only as a field of research. Some researchers, however, do not conform to the Ministry of Health’s conditions, such as the voluntarism of patients at no price. Further, research is only allowed in certain accredited centers, such as the National Liver Institute.
Some Egyptian doctors perform as mediators between patients and medical centers in China and Germany, although the International Society for Stem Cell Research says the treatment is still being studied, rather than applied. Some doctors also facilitate the dispatch of stem cells from Egypt to be reserved in foreign stem cell banks, according to Youm7’s investigation and interviews with stakeholders.
Nasser Mohamed and his son Ahmed, 8, and daughter Mariam, 5, were advised by Dr. Aboul Kheir, a well-known doctor among patients who seek stem cell therapy, to go through the “operation.” Mohamed promoted his children’s case on Facebook and a Saudi businessman donated 45,000 EGP ($5,900.)
At the time, Aboul Kheir supervised the stem cell research unit at government-owned Sheikh Zayed Specialized Hospital, which only collected the data of patients interested in pursuing this therapy. His work in the field, however, did not stop after the unit was shut down due to irregularities.
The violations include doctors referring patients to their clinics for stem cell therapy, Ministry of Health spokesperson Hossam Abdel Ghaffar told Youm7.
Aboul Kheir said Ahmed would be able to sit on his own and Mariam would be able to walk, according to Mohamed. The medical tests requested cost thousands of pounds, Mohamed said, and his cousin agreed to donate stem cells.
A year after the operation, Ahmed’s case had not improved. He died two weeks ago, and Mariam is still unable to walk.
Ibrahim Nassr, whose niece suffers a motor neuron disease, went to the so-called Egyptian Association for Stem Cell Therapy, where Aboul Kheir works, to find a cure for the child. Nassr was told one injection costs 6,000 EGP, but the family backed out for doubts over the feasibility and the cost.
Youm7 went to the Rawda Center, where Aboul Kheir also works, to inquire about an invented case, and were told the therapy would begin with three injections over three months for 6,000 EGP per injection. Aboul Kheir added that the possibility of healing does not exceed 40 percent, and that the process must be applied at the Rawda Center.
Youm7 contacted the Ministry of Health, which said it does not recognize either Rawda Center or the Egyptian Association for Stem Cell Therapy, and does not have information about them. The centers and their doctors are supposed to be investigated, according to the ministry’s code.
Aboul Kheir told Youm7 he never carried out experiments in private centers, and that he tells patients beforehand that the success rate is 40 percent. He said the injections cost only 500 EGP and only stimulate marrow cells, denying they contain stem cells.
He also he stem cell research unit at Sheikh Zayed Specialized Hospital was closed for financial reasons, rather than irregularities.
Further, other medical centers claim they cure diabetes with stem cells, as well as centers that allege they use stem cells in cosmetic surgeries.
Reporting by Hoda Zakaria and Mohamed al-Mandarawy